In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magus.
Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trod paths. But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.
The world building is very well done. There are creative elements (Jinx ability to see emotions as colors and the multiple worlds) but also plenty of mystery and suspense (what is Samara? Who can Jinx really trust? etc.).
Blackwood uses some common settings and elements for this fantasy, orphaned and under appreciated boy turned hero for example, but it is a unique mix that doesn’t come off as cookie-cutter and has a sense of seriousness but also whimsy. And what is also very well done are the characters. They have complexity and mixed motives which gives them depth. As Jinx tries to decipher what he encounters and make decisions about his future the reader has to make decisions along with him. Nothing is ever quite as simple or straightforward as it seems (after all there is magic involved, right?). Jinx must wrestle with his own fears and doubts while deciding how best to help his friends and do what is right.
I did find the book dragged a bit in spots but this could be a result of a number of factor’s unique to me. Of course, first off, this is a story for kids (grades 4-8) so that should be factored in. Also, I have been juggling a number of books and that could also play a role (ie I was distracted). Lastly, as I have mentioned, I have been very busy with “real life” issues so that to could contribute to my lack of focus. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive so take my sense with a grain of salt.
All in all, however, I think this is a very promising start to what should be a fun series. And I had no problem finishing it as even when I lost focus things picked up quickly.
Readers young and old who are looking for a new fantasy series will want to check this one out. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.